International Handbook on Social Policy and the Environment
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International Handbook on Social Policy and the Environment

Edited by Tony Fitzpatrick

Environmental change is central to the global social policy challenges of the twenty-first century. This comprehensive Handbook brings together leading experts from around the world to address the most important questions and issues we face. How should welfare states adapt to environmental change? To what extent are the ecological and social policy agendas compatible? Must we contemplate radical reforms to the principles and organisation of welfare services? Combining cutting-edge theory and data in an interdisciplinary approach, this Handbook both summarises existing developments and suggests how debates and research must develop in the future.
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Chapter 3: An ecosocial understanding of poverty

Tony Fitzpatrick


Whenever called upon to define 'social policy' I experience a silent panic. There are those things that governments do which - related to the design, implementation and administration of welfare services - are related to but distinct from 'economic policy' and 'public policy'. Defining social policy in terms of the welfare state can seem unduly restrictive, until people are reminded that government expenditure in this area accounts for over two-thirds of total public spending and almost one-third of the United Kingdom's gross domestic product (GDP). Indeed, the general public are now much more aware of the cost of social expenditure than was the case before austerity and before the 1997-2010 Labour government was blamed for somehow crashing the global economy and creating the worst financial crisis in 80 years - presumably by spending too much on nurses' pay and the like. Unfortunately, then, that awareness is all too often narrated through an economic liberal framing about the unaffordability of 'welfare'. Public debates about the ethics of social policy follow a similar pattern. Much of the UK media has adopted the US practice of referring to social security as 'welfare', such that to be claiming benefits - to be 'on welfare' - is now an automatic cause for suspicion. Lurid stories about a minority of 'shameless families' lazing around at taxpayers' expense are made to seem representative of the whole, fuelling a sense of perpetual resentment at benefit dependency that no amount of accurate statistics and contextualized explanations can dislodge.

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